Before Kelly's interview with Trump, she was the champ, an unlikely hero in the ongoing struggle to treat women with dignity and respect. For nearly a year, she took the high road while Trump demeaned her publicly, calling her a bimbo on Twitter and refusing to participate in a presidential debate because she was on the panel of interviewers.
Routinely and widely praised for asking the candidate about his misogynistic remarks, she earned his ire but the respect of colleagues everywhere. We should have known that Megyn's taped one-to-one interview with the candidate would not be a continuation of that conflict. Why else would The Donald, who repeatedly referred to himself as "a messenger," agree to appear on the show?
But I don't think we expected her to capitulate quite as much as she did. She asked him about his reaction to her misogyny question, and the most he could come up with was that he felt wounded by it. And when he's wounded, he tries to get un-wounded. He claimed that a lot of his Twitter comments are not made by him, even though they bear his name. But he did admit that he re-tweeted some of the mean ones. When Ms. Kelly asked about the bimbo tweets, he demurred at first, then conceded that he might have re-tweeted some of those. When she informed him that he had done so numerous times, he shrugged indifferently and said, "Sorry."
The subtext of the encounter was almost too vulgar for words. The interview sent a message that you can mistreat a woman as loudly and as often as you like. After all, you are the man. She is the woman. You have the money and the power. You can do what you want. And when you have finished degrading and belittling her, you make nice with a shrug and a sorry. But if the situation should repeat itself down the road, it is understood that you will treat her exactly the same way again.
Now about that dive. The athlete takes money to sell out his integrity. The anchorwoman uses the Trump interview to give an infomercial about her book and plays footsies with a woman-hater in order to leverage herself as the next prime-time Barbara Walters. Maybe it's not money under the table like in sports. But it's a sell-out just the same. Looking at this, you want to cry, "Say it isn't so, Megyn." Until you realize that it is.
And what's wrong with this? It sends a message to women everywhere that this is how you deal with a misogynistic man who happens to have money and power. You let him slap you around when he feels like it. When you agree to play nice and stop making a nuisance of yourself by standing up to him, he pats you on the head and buys you a new refrigerator -- or helps you promote your book.
Compare this to another unlikely figure in the realm of fair treatment for women. Enter Kelly Ripa, who was blindsided by the abdication of co-host Michael Strahan earlier this year. We have to understand that her return to the show, hand-in-hand with Strahan, after an uncomfortable and much-publicized absence, was an orchestrated event intended to salvage and protect the show's brand. Ripa even noted during the program that snipers might be hidden in the audience ready to fire tranquilizer darts at her if she moved too far off message. But beyond that, she addressed what happened in a way that resonated across the country, even among people who don't watch the show, as her remarks made it into news magazines and blogs everywhere. She said what happened during the rift with Strahan and the network executives who helped plan his move to Good Morning, America was the start of "much greater conversation about communication and consideration and, most importantly, respect."
This was the thing Megyn Kelly failed to assert or extract during her interview with Trump. She is the network news anchor. She is supposed to be the one with gravitas. Not Ripa. So isn't it ironic that Ripa should be the one who got it right? And isn't it her message that most deserves to be listened to? "All I'm asking for is a little R-E-S-P-E-C T," Aretha sang. Which is exactly what Megyn Kelly should have said to Donald Trump during their interview. But didn't.
Instead of getting cozy with him on national TV, Megyn should have stood by her original question. In the absence of the respect that question deserved, she would have been right to maintain Adam Clayton Powell's "sustained indignation" over similar wrongs (and worse) committed against women and girls every day.
Megyn Kelly reportedly earns $9 million a year. Kelly Ripa makes about $20 million. On the surface, their issues may seem little more than the irrelevant dramas of the one-percenters. But like it or not, the roles they play on the public stage have replaced the lessons of Greek drama. Gone are Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, Oedipus and Antigone. In their place, we have this passing-strange Tale of Two Kellys. And must decide for ourselves whether their behavior offers anything worthy of our attention or emulation.